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Taking a Chair

In the colonial era, most people did not sit on chairs as we do today. In the British colonies, people sat on backless benches or stools. In viceregal Mexico, people sat on cushions on the floor, a Spanish tradition adapted from the Moors. This Spanish chair from the 1500s and the 1640 Great Chair from Massachusetts reveal that chairs were reserved for important people.


Arm Chair Franz Mayer Collection 16th Century Mexican
Great Chair Bayou Bend Collection 1670 - 1700 Connecticut
Franz Mayer Collection
Great Chair
Bayou Bend Collection

16th Century

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(70K, 26sec on 28K)

1670 - 1700

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(51K, 19sec on 28K)

The armchair is carved from wood. The red velvet is attached to the wood with bronze nails. Velvet was a rare luxury item.

The chair is carved from maple and oak and has a rush seat.

The crossbars connecting the legs below the seat feature fretwork and carved motifs called riñoncillos or kidneys. Fluting, horizontal incised carving, adorns the front legs. The bronze nail heads attaching the velvet have a floral motif, and bronze finials stand atop the backrest.

The artist created the rounded forms and lines decorating the front and back chair posts by turning the wood on a lathe. At the top of back posts are oval decorations topped with a small finial. The rounded, mushroom-shaped decoration at the top of the front posts is very distinctive.

Chairs in Colonial Mexico
Chairs were not commonly used in Mexican homes until the 18th century. Following the Moorish tradition from Spain, people sat on stools or cushions. Chairs were primarily used by important church officials

Chairs in Colonial America
In the 17th century, only wealthy families owned chairs with backs. Most households had only one or two chairs which were reserved for the male head of the household and perhaps an honored guest. Women and children, if they were lucky, sat on backless stools. A "Great Chair" like this emphasized the status of the family who owned it, and in particular, the person important enough to sit in it.


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